How to manage a college education
The idea of paying for a liberal arts education is over. It is elitist and a rip off and the Internet has democratized access to information and communication skills to the point that paying $30K a year to get them is insane.
Ben Casnocha has one of the most thorough, self-examined discussions about the value of college on his blog. He went to college, probably, because so many people told him to. (Here are some good links on Ben’s blog.)
Ben left college. Early. And he’s fascinating, and he’s educating himself through experience, which is what the Internet does not provide. The Internet provides books and discussion, so why would you need to go to school for those things?
It’s the time of year when college students start looking for the return on investment for their education: They start worrying about what they’re going to do this summer.
More than 90% of college kids get internships at some point or another, and, whether or not internships are fair (some parents buy them), it is really, really important to have productive summers that can distinguish a recent-grad’s resume.
And, of course, it’s a tough time to graduate into the workforce. Tough is totally relative, though. It’s not as tough to be entry level as it is to be, say, a baby boomer with 20 years experience at a newspaper, or 20 years of experience underwriting ridiculous mortgages. But still, it’s tough to be in college right now.
It would be so great, and helpful, if college career centers could be front and center in every student’s planning. But most career centers are useless, because most colleges presume you still need college to teach you how to think critically. So they can get away with having incompetent career centers.
This is why you should be really careful using career centers – because colleges have this ivory-tower delusion that supporting yourself is ancillary to why you went to college.
Here’s why career centers are terrible:
Career centers cater to companies, not candidates.
Career centers are in the business of booking interviews on campus. They already have the students on campus, so they worry about getting companies on campus. This means that career centers do things that are not necessarily good for students. For example, companies want to compare apples to apples, so they want all the student resumes to have the same format. Career centers encourage this, so that companies are happy.
But if everyone has the same format, then only the students who excel at what is emphasized by the default resume structure will benefit.
So ask your career center for input on your resume, but don’t let them dictate structure to you.
Career centers don’t understand social media.
Most people get jobs from their network, not from a career center. And social media is the fastest, most effective way for you to build a network. Career centers want to get credit for everything they do — it’s their job security. So they want your blog, your domain name, your online identity — everything — to be tied to the university career center. How does this help you? It only serves to limit you in the social media world. You can crosspost to the career center, fine, but making the career center the focal point of your online identity is extremely short-sighted and could only be promoted by an institution failing to put student needs first, or to understand them in the first place.
Career center staff is self-selecting for underperformance.
Colleges have not, typically, focused on career centers as an ROI focal point.
Colleges, especially the really expensive ones, think of vocational school as pedestrian. So they track how many students go on to get a Ph.D in Russian from Columbia, but not how many students get jobs. Therefore, the career center is not exactly the hot button in budget meetings, and it’s not the landing ground for visionaries, because what visionary goes to a part of an institution no one cares about?
Here’s what you can do to make your college investment pay off:
Forget the idea of paying for a liberal arts education.
It used to be that people only did writing and critical thinking for school. So they needed school to teach them communication skills and critical thinking skills.
The generation that grew up with social media is the most effective at communicating of any generation in history. Despite their schooling, not because of it. Students today don’t need teachers who don’t know how to write a blog post to teach them how to persuade people. Because the bar for communication is high, and it’s in the blogosphere, and if you can write a blog post that gets a decent conversation started, then you already know how to write a persuasive, engaging argument.
Pick a school based on their track record for getting students jobs.
Look, did you get into Harvard? Did you have a 4.0 in high school? Then forget paying a lot of money for some chi-chi liberal arts school. Just go to a cheap school and get the degree. Don’t delude yourself that the 40K a year is worth it for a mid-tier school. And, since you’re not picking from a list of brand name schools, make your choice based on their track record for getting their graduates great jobs. (Hat tip: Melissa)
Look, I’m not saying school is stupid. I’m one of the people who constantly commented on Ben’s blog that I thought he should go to college. But I’m saying that you need to calculate the return on investment on going to college before you go to college so that you make sure you’re going to college for rational reasons. Just because the liberal arts education was a default goal to the bourgeois of the last three centuries does not mean that route will work for you, right now.
I was by here yesterday reading the comments and agree with your basic opinion. I’m a boomer who became disabled because of my vocation. How do you become disabled from being an electronic technician? It’s a long story but the short of it is my wife supported me for two years before all of the “experts” finally declared I was disabled. My SSDI income is only a fraction of what I was making but it is pretty good if you work for 30 years. Then out of the blue comes Mass Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) who’s deal was to me, that they would pay for my education where (WE) opted for Management not in IM Management as I requested. I went to a very expensive state school that really didn’t care what direction I headed in as long as they got there money which they did. I loved my Liberal Arts classes and the writing experience. Finding out what is and has been going in in the world at 50 something is enlightening. The point I would like to make here is most of my research was done on the internet. If you want to get a pulse on what Americans know educated or not just was J-walking on Jay Leno, it is sad. The school I went to and wish I could afford had some great professors but the schools bottom line, was the bottom line.
I am sure you are aware that some career center professionals read your blog and will be offended. Well, I am one of those. I also know that by offending people is they way in which you get more followers, through controversy. I would welcome you anytime to visit our career center so that you can learn that there are professionals out there who do put the students first. The only reason why we do conduct employer relations activities is to benefit the student. We do not try to take credit for students activities through the control of their communication via social networking, it’s quite the opposite. We recently invited Robert Allan Paul (out of St. Paul) to present on how each student is in control of their own branding. Even though there are many successful individuals who do not have a liberal arts degree you have to admit that there are certain professions that require one for the CONSIDERATION of admittance. For those people who have a BA/BS and still looking for work, the degree is not a ticket to a job, it’s the ticket to an INTERVIEW. One very important benefit to a 4 year education is the opportunity to hone and develop the communication skills that are of the highest importance to employers. It’s up to the student as to whether or not they take advantage of the opportunity. I challenge you to visit our career center to learn what is actually happening here, for the student. By the way, I am an internship coordinator and my hardest sell is to the students, not the employers. I can say that I didn’t get a whole lot out of my career center when I was in school, either undergraduate or graduate. However, I didn’t really pursue or work with them the way I should have. I didn’t attend the numerous events that they planned. Some career centers and their professionals are sending the right message and giving great information but the students have to meet us half way. Most students don’t visit our office until they think they need us and sometimes it’s too late. Again, a liberal arts education is not necessary for success but sometimes it’s a requirement for an interview in the field a person wants to pursue for employment. You are welcome to visit us anytime to get an ACCURATE perception of what is happening in career centers today.
I understand your frustration, but Penelope is not interested in accuracy – if you have read her blog for any period of time, it is obvious that she is only interested in senationalistic attention. She garners this through spouting a series of generalizations, often supported by a set of dubious studies. Given her “success” in the business world, I am surprised anyone listens to her advice.
Yes, I am now coming to understand that. I have chosen to no longer follow her and am sorry that I had recommended her blog to my friends.
Anne may no longer be reading, but her post seems to highlight PT’s point. Blaming the students for not using career centers properly is a defensive maneuver that may make you feel better. But if “most students” aren’t using your services properly, maybe you aren’t serving much of a function to the community.
Maybe my liberal arts education would have helped me had I gone to a decent school, but I went to a podunk small town University with an atrophied media department. I couldn’t tell you what I learned, only that I finished. Now here I am, four years out of school with jobs under my belt I could have gotten without college (all entry-level), and currently unemployed going on a year. I even tried to get an internship at an ad agency in town, and they said “you’re not in college, go away.” I’m trying to educate myself by working at your damn place for free!
Don’t go on autopilot and just go to college just because your parents think it’s an Absolute Good, kids.
Oh, I feel for you. I was out of work for over a year and you are right about the internships. God, even volunteering at places is getting difficult. I hope you find something soon, at least to get you by until you find something you want.
As for jobs post college. Well I had better jobs before I went to college, with major companies. Then I moved, went to school and pretty much every job I have had since I ended up getting simply because I had a college degree. They didn’t care what it was in, only that I had one.
Penelope, I must say, I love reading your blog on a daily basis, but today I felt the need to resopnd and disagree with some of your comments about university career centers.Working at a school that is well-known for its experiential learning programs and cooperative education, experience is a key component of the student experience in addition to academics.
We NEVER advise clients to use a DEFAULT resume format. We work with each student AND alum that comes to our office to develop a resume that is suited to their individual experience and target industries. We tell students that the resume needs to be a reflection of themselves and they need to be comfortable with everything on it.
We have also been promoting social media in major ways. We have always promoted networking in general, and staff in our office have been singing the praises of various social media, whether its LinkedIn or other resources. Staff have been participating in webinars and training sessions to learn more about social media, and are offering workshops on related topics on a regular basis. And we have never asked students to link their own personal blogs to our brand, it would be inappropriate.
My colleagues and I are very passionate about our clients, and doing everything possible to help them on their path, whether its identifying careers and majors of interests, finding internships or after graduation jobs, or transitioning careers.
To sum up, I wholeheartedly disagree with your perception of Career Centers :)
And I should also note that I forgot to run spell check, because I do realize I mistyped “respond” in my first paragraph.
I agree with you 100% about paying 40K for a mid-tier school. I have always said this–I went to a large state university which had its pros and cons, but my friends who went places like BU got the same education for waaaayyyyyy more money. And I still got to do a junior year abroad where I went to a completely different kind of school in England and learned SO much–mostly about educating myself.
After you get your first job, where you got your degree matters less and less with each passing year,–unless you went to an Ivy League school because 1) they take care of their own 2) it still impresses people–and it could be that what impresses is a tinier subset anyway, mostly Harvard and Yale, and some places not ivy like Stanford.
Save your money. Go to a state school. OH, it’s also so competitive to teach in higher ed, that good smart people work everywhere, and often, at the big places, you never see the big names they brag about having and get taught by grad students anyway.
I couldn’t agree more with the post. I graduated from Michigan State University with a decent GPA, only to come out of it with no job. I’ve carved out a decent living for myself as a sales consultant (a job that I don’t mind having, and even like occasionally), but I could have gotten this job without paying $25,000 for a college degree.
One thing that I would add is that you can’t replace the experience of going to a big university. I’m not talking about a smaller school. I mean Big Ten size. There’s nothing like waking up on a football Saturday to the fight song playing outside. Your options for entertainment are so much greater at a Michigan State because of the bigger student body; plays, musical performances, indie bands. That experience is something you can replicate anywhere else…except for maybe New York City.
I agree with T. Scott on the state school (Go Badgers!) Students have opportunities before them like they will never have again, and they’re all covered by yours and my tax dollars. This includes cultural opportunities like T. Scott mentioned above; also sport clubs, use of athletic facilities, phenomenal libraries, research opportunities, volunteer opportunities, study abroad…the list is endless.
College, no matter where you go, is what you make it. Students can waste a $40 grand/year classroom experience as much as a state school student. Or they can get out there and make their education. Volunteer, join student organizations, be a leader, do internships, get to know the professor…those are things that will get you the jobs.
After scanning through the comments, I can’t agree with you entirely.
Statistically, those with a degree make more money over their lifetime. What sucks, is that most recent grads start out in an entry level job. No one wants to hire someone with an education and no experience.
It’s also important to note that not every school costs 30K a year. Otherwise, it would be impossible for a lot of students to go to school. (information like this is something you overlook quite often…)
AND I think that by toting this idea, you are more or less stating that more jobs should be obtained without getting a degree. But then that only leaves the specialized areas requiring extra schooling. Which, in time, will leave our country split; the smart ones who specialized and the ones who didn’t get an education past high school-and our public high schools aren’t doing too great. This eventually could lead to the ‘dumbing down’ of America. So really, your argument should be that college shouldn’t be this expensive.
Although I do think that vocational schools are great, its not great for everyone, or every profession. In the end, I think a variety of education is worth it and necessary-but it needs to remain affordable.
Putting in my two cents worth (or worthless to some.) I think that having a degree it simply starting to lose its relevancy. I work in mid level service operations, and you would not believe the amount of entry level employees that we have brought on over the past couple of years that have gone nowhere despite having what one might consider impressive academic credentials and a strong work ethic. I could have gotten most positions I’ve held since college without the degree. Also, several colleges are simply diploma mills (Capella University, Univ of Phoenix etc….) and their admissions standards are non-existent (this is not hyperbole. Check out Cappella’s entrance requirements to their programs.) When I went to the university, I had to prove I was qualified to be there with a good academic standing (and yes.. standardized tests…) These for-profit online schools will take anything with a pulse. Not only does it cost these folks an audacious amount of money to attend these schools (which are entirely online…. not necessarily a bad thing…. but not always great either) but because everyone knows they are diploma mills, it’s hard to take a potential hire seriously that has obtained a degree from one.
Back to the point… try on some hats first with some different companies and positions. College is waiting. You can ALWAYS go back if you find it’s something you need. Don’t jump into it so quickly without exploring who you are and what makes you tick.
Not all online schools are worthless. Just because they don’t require the GMAT, The LSAT, the GRE or any other admissions test doesn’t mean they don’t have standards. It also doesn’t mean that you don’t have to put in hard work, research and a lot of hours to succeed. Many of these schools are accredited through the same accrediting bodies as an on campus university, and the standards for that accreditation are not lower. I have worked at both on campus and on line schools and have gone through the reaffirmation visits with both. It’s not easy, the accrediting body is tough and the review stage is even more difficult. I can’t speak for Capella as I have never worked for them, nor attended their programs, but I also can’t discount them without researching their academics.
I have worked with for profit universities also and I can tell you that you are full of crap. Admissions standards at places like DeVry and Strayer are extremely low on purpose because the more students these schools enroll, the more profit they earn (hence the title, “for profit”).
Did you know that University of Phoenix’s graduate rate is only 4%?!
There’s a place in the world for liberal arts degrees and always will be.
I’d like to see people know themselves better and have clearer goals before they head to higher education of any type. A liberal arts degree is still a great fit for lots of people. So are vocational degrees. The key, of course, in whatever field you choose is being motivated to do your best, and performing well. It’s more than just “work ethic,” it’s finding your work to be engaging and challenging and fulfilling.
Do you really think a job-focused education is always the right thing when we know that the job market can move so quickly? Nurses are hot right now — what about in 15 years? Your job-specific degree might get you a job in the current economy, but as things shift, do you have the skills to transfer to a different field? Social networking and blogs have changed things, yes – but there will be another big thing to come after Blogger and Facebook. I don’t disagree that kids need to be more careful about where they go and how much it costs, but the socialization, education, and achievements earned by spending a few years on a college campus getting a liberal arts degree are still worth something long-term.
For those out of school (even if it’s just after graduation), I find working with the alumni associations’ career director (most now have one) 10x more effective for my clients than working with the career centers for my clients who are still in school. LIKE NIGHT AND DAY.
To the point that I recommend newly graduating students start networking within the alumni association NOW so they’re set to go the minute they’ve graduated. The alumni associations’ staff are often-times comprised of people who’ve worked in corporate America, the non-profit sector or government — they haven’t just been sitting in the ivory towers of academia for decades as so many in the career centers have been done.
Brian Kurth, President
Brian Kurth + Company Career Consulting & Outplacement – http://www.briankurth.com
VocationVacations Career Mentorship Experiences – http://www.vocationvacations.com
I agree with your point on this one. Career Center professionals typically have a background in counseling, not business. Fortunately, I have seen a shift to include staff that has some business background. In fact, one of my counterparts at another Iowa institution has an MBA. I, too, own and operate my own business. So, your assumption that we are all from the same background is wrong.
It’s popular to say that career centers are terrible. It’s what many people–especially those who didn’t use them in college or only went once–like to say.
But I disagree with you, and the ideas in this blog post. For starters, the latest information I can find from the Census says that people with bachelor’s degree can expect to earn an average of almost a million more over the course of their careers than people who don’t have degrees.
And while social networking is important online, connecting with alumni face-to-face and through informational interviews is one of the best ways to land a first job. Because alumni frequently are incredibly loyal to their alma mater and their fellow community that it creates–regardless of their opinions on administration or the effectiveness of the campus career service office.
Yesterday I finished a workshop series of three presentations on social media at Dartmouth College. Departments across campus are actively using social media to engage and connect with students and their alumni and Career Services is jumping into the game. But social media aside, their graduates are doing well–according to a Payscale.com survey, Dartmouth graduates have the highest median salaries in the country ten years post-graduation. One of the most accessed website links at the college? The alumni career network. (It’s a quick way to make connections regardless of what field you are in.)
I’ve asked my LinkedIn network group and blog readers to weigh in on this debate, thanks for sparking a thought-provoking discussion.
The cost of every degree out there is insane, especially at the graduate and post graduate level. I don’t think it matters what major you decide on, you’re still going to pay a fortune for that piece of paper, the education and the hope that both will lead to a rewarding career.
I like the idea of a liberal arts degree, but that has a lot to do with the fact that I’m well rounded and like learning a little bit of everything. I have no interest in business, yet I’ll study some aspects of it. I like medicine, but have no interest in working with sick people. I like psychology, but would be more likely to give the jumper a push rather than a helping hand. Liberal arts would be great for me, as a major anyway…but from my end of the view, why spend thousands on something I can just study at will? Now if I were going to have a career that could benefit from it, then maybe…but maybe not. My goal is to have student loans paid off in a few years, not accumulate more of them.
This is an interesting topic to because of my own university experiences. As a high school student I got it in my head that I wanted to go to Georgetown University’s Foreign Service School. I busted my ass to get in, only to have a significant ‘NOW WHAT?’ kind of letdown. For many of us, going to a fancy schmancy liberal arts school is the pretext by which we are able to escape our homes with parental support. Had I chosen any other major I would have ended up at the local state university. My parents were so thrilled to have a daughter at GU that they coughed up the tuition and I got away. It was a good school, but I was keen to escape my parents, my home town and in retrospect, myself. It wasn’t until I got halfway through GU that I realized that it was an excellent education that was in many ways wasted on me – because I had other issues i had to deal with before i could get on with my life. Since I’ve had cancer twice (expensive even with insurance) and since I chose to then get a degree in a relatively low paying field for which I have passion, I’m still paying off my student loans from GU.
In retrospect, I wish I had gone to the cheaper state school. I would have encountered the same issues of self, but I wouldn’t still be paying off my tuition at age forty something. I did find a lot of paid internships that directed me to my alternate career during my years at GU, but i found them on my own rather that with any career center assistance. I was in DC and at the time the place was ripe with internships. I think that the career center would have been horrified that my typical GU type internships persuaded me that I would chew my arm off to escape the associated jobs. For the record, i worked for my senator, my representative in her home office doing constituent support, for an accounting office of a restaurant chain, for a lobbying law firm and for a think tank.
After these internships, i began planning my transition to my alternate career. It was twenty years ago which was pre internet, so there wasn’t that much information available for my change. I found that the career center was completely unprepared to offer guidance to anyone that didn’t fit the standard post degree – go to law school, go to med school, go to business school, go to work for a big corporation path. There was a small number of people from my graduating class that were making the same move towards the design professions, and the staff there were completely flummoxed about it – and completely unmotivated to offer any significant guidance. If i hadn’t been fortunate enough to work with a Jesuit at the university who’d been a big time corporate architect in his previous life, my transition to my passion would have been a lot harder.
For my second degree i chose a decent school in an area in which i’d always wanted to live. In the ensuing years, i’ve encountered many architects trained in more prestigious schools, but i never felt like i was at a disadvantage b/c my second degree wasn’t from a famous place. Furthermore, i didn’t leave my masters program believing that i was my school’s great gift to the design world – unlike many of my peers who made a point of name dropping their degree program when they found themselves at any sort of disadvantage. (i.e. I went to the GSD so it doesn’t matter that i don’t understand how to read architectural drawings.)
Anyway, good for you for challenging the whole ‘career’ center thing and the idea that a liberal arts degree from a fancy school in and of itself is the bringer of wealth power and good sex.
As always as very thought provoking blog. I attended a state school in the state of California. I was a first generation, working class student, so for me attending a high priced liberal arts school was simply not an option. I also didnt have the luxury of relying on my parents network to find a job after graduation. I have always bemoaned how useless career centers really are but rather than just complaining, I set out to build my own my own network and have been fairly successful. Many people told me that my Political Science degree would be useless but I can actually say that I have been able to find jobs related to politics that pay a decent salary. I know many folks who attended the ivy league who have not been as successful because they did not take full advantage of the resources that were available to them at these prestigious institutions and did not set upon building their own network either.
Now that I am a working professional I am always baffled by the horrible resumes that recent graduates (both from presitgious and unknown unversities) submit. I dont think we should expect our unversity to teach us everything. After all no one ever taught me how to format and write a proper resume.
My advice to college students is focus not only on your studies but on finding internships that will help you build a network that you can utilize after graduation. This way you wont be disappointed after graduation.
I credit this blog for providing me with and real world advice on the realities of work, life, and finding a career than any other book or mentor I have encountered until now. I now refer all of my fellow Gen Y friends to this blog, for any issue they face. From their job search, to being a woman in the workplace, to dealing with office politics. For me this blog replaces the college career centre. I believe we should get advice from individuals who offer us a vision, inspire creativity and questioning. You are definitely one of them
I recently graduated from a Canadian University. The Canadian context is a bit different (we don't have to worry about not having health care upon graduation or really enormous debt). I used my career centre for its resources online and in the library. I never talk to the staff.
Reasons I don't go to my college careers centre :
1. It's depressing how they envision you will find a job. Things like: "It could take 6 months to find a job" or you should spend you days sending 30 resumes to low level admin work. Forget about your dreams just get ANY job. My favourite: You took what? And What do you plan on doing with that?
2. Apart from increasing your risk for depression (on top of being in a high risk group) my career centre totally miss the point. There is no interaction. The staff are awkward. Careers centre should be transformed into alumni social centres and host parties once a week for students recent grads along with older professionals to practice networking, which is still the fastest and most proven way to get a job.
3. At the career centre, I met mostly uncreative quasi-professionals a few years older than me, starting a career in HR. They still think in terms of well defined fields government/education/law/business where you really need to think more in terms of your skills and passions (organizing, teaching, writing, planning, creating, marketing- interacting).
4. Personally, I didn't know what I wanted to do. It is difficult to get advice on what to do, when you don't know what you want to do because most of us are not self starters. So I went out an talked to my older sister's friends who are lawyers, social workers, marketing managers, consultants. I ask them what they did to get where they are and more importantly are they happy with what they do? Only lesson I learned is do this sooner. I got my younger sister to do that and also seek internships from her first year in college.
5. To credit the career centre, it is the only place in the entire university which presents you with the challenges of the reality of finding a job. Not that it's there to help you with that really. Its more about pouring cold water over your face. The most important thing for a college student is to get out of the college bubble from their first year and try different settings where they might work or volunteer in a multigenerational environment (so not retail and food service). If I did that I would have had a job now. Instead I run a few student clubs, worked in the university and stayed around nervous college students who are frantic to apply to anything or stay for another year, just to avoid a spell of unemployment after graduating.
6. So I graduated without a job, it wasn't because of my choice of university and its careers centre. It was because I didn't take the initiative or had enough confidence to pursue experiences outside of the university walls. In the first two years, classes were too large. I imagine that's what public universities are like in the states. In my final year I was taking courses of a small interdisciplinary program with a class of ten. That did more to inspire and instil confidence than all the other years I spent learning there. If I had the choice to go to a small liberal arts college I would jump at the opportunity. The role of education is to inspire you to formulate your own vision and instil a sense of confidence so you can act on this vision. Instead of stats on job rates, I would like universities to provide information on graduate rates of happiness.
I came across this piece of information. In the USA, 1 out of every 3000 people has a Bachelors Degree. Further, 1 out of every 24 MBAs on resumes is real. You would not know this looking at a pile of resumes from a want Ad. IT seems everyone has at least a BA. I can’t check out everyone’s credentials, so someone gets a free pass.
In my college Orien 101 class, the career service director said that there are 7 mojors that had 100% placement and the best starting salaries: Chem Engr, Pharmacy, Nursing, Physical therapy, Petroleum Engr, Computer Sci, and Special Edu. Each of these majors took only 60 to 100 people each year. What was for the rest of us? What we got was classes where instructor read for texts, useless core classes, a foreign language requirement, and no one asking to hire our major at career services.
As a career professional who has worked successfully in human resources/recruiting, headhunting and career counseling for over 25 years, I can tell you that they are all different occupations. While there is some overlap the mindset and approach are quite different.
Headhunters are focused on “placement” (typically for a fee) and they do the “fishing” for the client utilizing their network while career counselors teach people the skills to “fish” for themselves! Career counselors focus on teaching students/clients skills such prepare a competitive resume, interview well and employ job search strategies. There is quite a different in terms of professional credentials as well. If you were to explore the occupations in depth you would see the difference.
Attached is a link to the Occupational Outlook Handbook form the Bureau of Labor which profiles occupations:
In addition, Career Counselors help students/clients with self assessment exercises to further explore their own values, interests, personality and skills to identify an occupation that is congruent with the world of work.
University career centers are no longer “Career Planning & Placement Centers” like they were 30 years ago. The title of the center explains that the approach is typically more developmental and the focus is on “teaching” people how to fish so they learn the approach and can continue to do it throughout their life…a valuable skill to learn!
Christine Harriger, M.Ed., M.C.D.P.
Master Career Development Professional
James Madison University
I am also a bit upset with the comments made regarding college career centers. One should never make “generalizations” about anything. And that was done here. All career centers are different as are the people who staff them. I can say, that as a college career counselor for many years, I worked very hard to keep current, to understand how to communicate with college students, use technology and work with employers. My goal was to teach students how understand the current job market, develop effective interviewing skills, write professional looking resumes, etc. Keeping current is the key which is why career counselors attend a variety of conferences and workshops offered by organizations such as NACE (National Association of Colleges and Employers) or in the Western U.S., MPACE (Mountain Pacific Association of Colleges and Employers). Also in Southern California, there’s an excellent association geared for career counselor who work at liberal arts and independent colleges (CLASIC – Consortium of Liberal Arts Schools & Independent Colleges). These conferences offer us the opportunity to interact with employers, students and other professionals to develop and enhance our skills and abilities. You made it sound as if Career Centers are still using techniques from the 50’s. So not true. And I agree with the person who said that students must work with the career center. Too often, students wait until the final weeks of their senior year to visit the center. Perhaps you should take up the offers you have had to visit some career centers, then you might not be so quick to generalize about them. Many are using facebook, twitter, linkedlin, etc. to reach students. Almost everyone I know in the college career center world are hard-working, dedicated professionals.
The most important point Penelope is making is the Return on Investment.
To pay so much–even a good state school runs about 20K a year these days–often ncecessitates going hugely into debt straight out of school, with no guarantee of a job that will compensate amply enough so that repayment doesn’t entail some level of poverty.
Maybe that’s overstated. Point Pen is making and I’ve always made: Learn while you earn. Show up and do good work ANYWHERE and the chances the employer will help pay for your education WHILE YOU’RE STILL EARNING, NOT JUST PAYING OUT are very good.
And if you don’t like that job, find another. Just do good work wherever you go, and you’ll be ok.
But earn while you learn. Just doesn’t make sense to overpay for education. Local and community colleges will offfer ample rewards for attending. And plenty of local business opportunities, contacts, networking.
And if you win the lottery the day you graduate from pricey NameBrand U, and discover it wasn’t really worth all that, well, you can just go back and learn what you want to with all those winnings.
It’s funny. I don’t think myself or any of my collegiate peers consistently even consider the liberal arts at all. What are they? What DO you do with a degree in the liberal arts? I don’t know. I can’t tell you of many people who do.
Of course, this is because I go to Georgia Tech, where my majors (Biology and Biochemistry) are considered akin to liberal arts due to the lower reliance on math, and the fact we have time to sleep most nights.
In conclusion, I’m only commenting to point out how disconnected from this post I feel. I know I will never worry about getting a job after I graduate, and neither will many of my peers.
I completely agree with you. I’ve graduated from a state university in three years, thus saving about $15-17K. I look back, and I’m not quite sure that education was worth the money I spent, even though I saved quite a bit by graduation early (and also working part-time jobs).
Here’s the paradox, though. I know I could have done the job I got after college (where I got promoted pretty fast and got an opportunity to do some amazing things) without a university degree, but I also know that this same employer would not have called me in for an interview had I not gotten that education. My resume would be thrown into a trashcan right away… a degree is a requirement so many times, and waiting for the workplace to evolve and to have resources to evaluate every candidate for that amazing skillset acquired without the university education is just not something worth doing. How do you break through? Even though my education was state, and therefore cheap, I still consider that an expensive line item on my resume to pass that initial screening and to get that phone call. But, again, how do you go around that?
Ugh. You did NOT just promote blogging as a preferable alternative to a college education, did you?
Getting a college education isn’t about getting a job or getting access to information. It’s about learning how to think. And learning how to think is best done in an environment where there’s a professional introducing you to material that makes you think, and other students exposing you to their varying points of view. It cannot be done on the internet. The internet is good for many things, but a substitute for a college education, it isn’t.
Some interesting points about the value of a formal education. I have often felt people go on to do some form of additional training and education without really understanding why or because they were pressured. I really enjoyed the articles by Ben that you referenced too – “Why is College (4 years, $160k) the Default?”
Way to insult part of your audience. I work as a career advisor for a liberal arts institution, take classes there as well (a perk of working for a university) and I wholeheartedly disagree with you on both points.
College changes you. I went back to school after several years in the military and I was a very different student after gaining a few years of experience and perspective. A decade out of high school – when you say I could have developed all the skills employers look for all by my lonesome and found awesome, wonderful jobs with my high school diploma – I had few of the skills they were looking for. I hadn’t proved myself capable of the analytical thought required in my work, nor the communication skills from osmosis in my daily life. When I went back to college I learned those skills, challenged myself, and had the time to finally explore what I wanted out of life. And the best thing I did was talk to my career center. The counselor there helped me develop the confidence to communicate my skills effectively and spent many hours helping me explore options and research pathways. She inspired me so much I wanted to do the kind of work she does. Ten years later, after graduate school and tring some things out, here I am in a job I love.
Now I help liberal arts students every day see the value of what they bring to the table with their liberal arts degrees. Even the philosophy and classics majors who always get maligned in posts like these. They have value, they get jobs, and they’re damn smart people.
As for the swipe you took at EVERY SINGLE COLLEGE CAREER CENTER IN THE COUNTRY, as if you’d actually visited them – I have no words for how wrong you are. I’m going to end this because I have to go write a blog post for my career center’s blog, schedule some tweets for our Twitter account, and invite my students to an event on how to use social media in the job search through our Facebook page.
I'd say high school career centers are more the problem.
When I graduated at age 17 in 1998, I had no idea what I wanted to do and subsequently took a year off, moving several thousand miles from my family and working for a year, before deciding that I wanted to go to college. I did not just think I needed to go; I wanted to go, because I had been working wage jobs and figured out that I needed a little more than that.
I still didn't know what I wanted to do, though, because I went into it as an Animal Science major in the School of Agriculture at the University of Georgia. It was only when I started failing chemistry and stumbled into the career center that a caring counselor gave me a personality test and helped me figure out that I did not want to actually study the animals; I wanted to write about the people that study the animals. By helping me throw out my broken belief that science = success, I got onto a path that I have since been happy with and that is leading me ever closer to what I have always wanted to do: be a writer.
I do not bemoan the route I took to get to these conclusions, because I learned so much in the realm of life experience, but I do fault my high school for not doing a better job at promoting alternative routes for young people who think that a university right after graduation is the only respected way to go. As some readers mentioned earlier on here, what about vocational school? And I have long admired the German system for separating students early on, so that apprenticeships are more common and college prep is not the only high school curriculum, because it shouldn't be.
A big part of what keeps colleges in business is parents’ hope that their kids will meet a good spouse there — someone of a similar or “better” background. Some part of tuition is our culture’s replacement for dowry/brideprice/matchmaker services.
Great post. I have a liberal arts education and it was a great investment, but not because of the information I received. What I gained from college is a great experience where I tried new things, met interesting and diverse people, and worked hard.
This can happen almost anywhere if you can get yourself out of bed, have the motivation to gather and digest information without getting a grade for it, and can get up the nerve to try new things, meet new people and ask new questions.
Create your own internships by finding people that are doing what you want to be doing and work as closely with them as they will let you.
I appreciate the way you put ideas out there, but I had to speak up on this one. There are many fields/majors/areas that require a full college education – engineering, science, economics – any area that uses lots of math or that helps one hone a particular skill. I studied physics, and I’m so glad I went to a liberal arts college because once I got to grad school, my classmates from tech schools were often completely socially inept and barely able to communicate with each other, let alone with the public. Likewise, I believe critical thinking skills are necessary for writers or anyone who has studied humanities. After teaching at a (dirt cheap) state school, I can say in all honesty that my liberal arts education was 100% worth it. The retention rate at my undergrad institution was over 90%, and at the state school it was under 50%. I believe that there is too much stigma associated with “vocational” training, and we need to help students to attain skills that will help them find jobs, but I also think there is a place for research institutions and liberal arts colleges. We need a better mix, and a broader acceptance of differing kinds of educational paths. I saw a lot more kids wasting time and money at the state school because they dropped out or didn’t have the guidance and discipline to study something a field that helped them attain marketable skills.
RE: Sue on 01/22/2010 at 05:15pm (and others)
I originally posted a comment here yesterday, then came back. You know what I found interesting? Out of all the Career Center pros that posted on here, only two or three bothered to state or link to the college they’re associated with. Why does that matter? I’m pretty sure that not all the people looking at this blog have degrees. I’m going back to college while working, and for those who talked about or linked to their college, of course I at least looked up their website and programs listing. Because eventually, I’m going beyond an Associates. While taking classes I’m already planning where I will go next. I’m sure I’m not the only one on the planet doing so. (For the lady at IPFW. You may get a future student next year. For the guy who posted the link to online college grad stats earlier, awesome. I will find that quite useful.)
You want to prove the blogger here wrong, link to your college! You have an opportunity to advertise the institution you work at for free, on a blog seen nationally. You can’t buy advertising like that. Hell, for those who mentioned you were going to your school’s Twitter or Facebook page after you finished complaining, you could have at least linked to that in your reply. Common sense. Don’t just rail at the speaker that they’re wrong. Show the audience your evidence.
The person-to-person network and community you can build at a college cannot be understated — this is the same type of network that Brazen Careerist promotes, only it is a four-years-in-the-making sort of network. I still have strong ties with a lot of people I went to college with, many of whom are doing all kinds of spectacular things. In part because I went to a small liberal arts college in a small town, the alumni network feels a strong bond with one another, and using these contacts has helped me in my career and social life, and enabled me to connect to dozens of interesting and thoughtful people.
I think it would be interesting to ask
(1) How many career centers have you worked with
(2) List your specific experience with career centers
This would help in the validity of your thoughts and comments!
Seth Godin says get your acceptance letter from a big-name MBA school, then take that letter to the company you want to work for and offer to work for them for a minimal wage for the four years instead of going to school. You will read the textbooks and study in the evening and apprentice during the day. In four years, you will have a tailored, hands-on education, a job, four years’ experience, and no debt. The company will have a professional with relevant real-world experience, not a hot-shot MBA grad demanding status and a big salary to pay off student loans.
It’s worth thinking about.
While I expected numerous people who work in career centers to opine here, none of the arguments are convincing, and most of them are of the “but mine is good” variety.
Trunk’s reasoning still stands. The people who work there are not likely to be the kind of people who have networks to get you anything you could not more easily get yourself with some networking. There are exceptions, and maybe your are the exception, but you are almost certainly not the rule.
My worry is that many in such centers will do far more harm than good. The best thing that a career center can do is transform itself into a center for networking, and getting out of the advice, resume, or “placement” business. Most of the advice such centers offer about the latter is almost always too stale, too conservative, and mostly a waste of time.
If colleges want to get really serious about placement, they should start hiring more adjuncts out of industry who have passions for teaching. Those folks might actually have some good advice to offer.
Wow – what a horrible post. I won’t begin to comment on the career center, because I see it as secondary to the worst aspect of the post. College has nothing to do with information. Sure you can self teach, but college is all about the people. Networking, networking, networking. If you’re interested in a low wage job, pick the cheapest school you can get a degree in. But if you actually want a career, go to the absolute best school you can. I graduated from one of the top schools in the country and I don’t regret those student loans for a second. It’s all about giving yourself choices.
I have to 100% disagree this this generation of students are such a great bunch of communicators, at least in any kind of intellectual sense. I am an assistant professor at a distance education campus, and many of these students can barely spell their own name. (How did they even graduate from High School without being able to write a complete sentence?) They plagiarize everything since they don’t know how to think critically, or write. They are not using social media to read books or discuss great works of literature or anything remotely requiring deep thought. They are Tweeting what they ate for lunch, posting their relationship status on Facebook, texting, sexting, and generally, “skimming the surface of life” (to quote the great Joyce Carol Oates) etc. They are most definitely not sitting there on their computers or SmartPhones figuring out what great works are available full-text online via Google e-books, their public library, or any other service, or posting long deep thoughts on any matters except perhaps their favorite bands.
I think the only thing I can ad are some good resources. You have enough opinionated commentary!
On Distance Education: Seek out a name brand school’s distance ed program if you are working and returning to school or if you prefer to have more control over your “ivory tower” education. Penn state offers a variety of degrees & last I checked Harvard & Stanford offer online certificates. I read “e-Learning Pundit”‘s blog. High quality online ed. will have a track record and proven interactivity between teachers and students.
I would also suggest the blog “Study Hacks” for an explanation of why/when a conventional degree is still valuable and for techniques to get you to A-grade levels.
P makes her point at the end when she says "you need to calculate the return on investment on going to college before you go to college so that you make sure you’re going to college for rational reasons."
This really is the bottom line – liberal arts degrees are not useless. They get you into a network. They teach you how to think, how to have self-discipline, how to socialize within your peer group, how to experience different things that help you understand the world around you. And some people might even learn something useful in class.
But the point is that they may not be worth tens of thousands of dollars to someone who won't be positioned to pay all that back later.
High school kids get herded into a liberal arts college because it's the next step and it's easy to get misled into thinking the degree will easily translate into a high-paying job. They're told to sign on the dotted line for thousands of dollars in loans without fully understanding what that means. Schools – and parents – don't do enough to prepare them for the reality of debt and the post-graduation job market.
In the end, a cost-benefit analysis of what you want and what the degree can realistically get you is crucial. But how many 16-year-old high school kids can really do this? Most find it hard enough just to pick a major.
I think liberal arts are still important – but as part of life-long learning. The internet gives us the ability to do that and get an accounting or biology degree.
But when you’re 17 and a senior and applying to colleges, you don’t have the capacity to think about this stuff. You’re just usually confused about life. I think people should work for 2-3 years out of high school and then go to college.
I was very disappointed in your article. I worked in a college Career Center for two years and from my experience, I find that you have mis-characterized them. I would encourage you to do better research and talk to some Career Center Directors around the country before you report on them in your blog.
“Career centers cater to companies, not candidates.”
While it is true that career centers do cater to companies it is to bring in revenue in to pay for services for students, so they actually are catering to companies to better serve students (candidates) by being able to provide workshops and other services that help candidates learn HOW to interview well and actually get the jobs they are interviewing for.
“Career centers don't understand social media.”
Career center staff are very aware that social media is very important and are doing their best to create workshops and other programming and services that teach students how to leverage social media. You may want to visit the website of the biggest professional organization for career centers and employers (National Association of Colleges and Employers – NACE) and see all the resources they have to try and help both career centers and employers learn how to leverage social media. http://www.naceweb.org/SearchResult.aspx?keyword=social+media
“Career center staff is self-selecting for underperformance.”
“Colleges, especially the really expensive ones, think of vocational school as pedestrian. So they track how many students go on to get a Ph.D in Russian from Columbia, but not how many students get jobs.”
Actually, it’s the other way around, they do a much better job of tracking how many students in each discipline get jobs than tracking how many go on to graduate school. They also don’t do a good job tracking how many PhDs who start actually finish (although they do track attrition/retention of undergraduates).
I also don’t agree with your advice about not paying for/getting a degree. I don’t care how socially connected you are, many jobs require a degree and if you don’t have one, a company will NOT hire you even if you are very competent.
“Pick a school based on their track record for getting students jobs.” Here, I agree, more students and parents should ask about this when deciding on schools!
Very provocative article– thanks for posting.
As a director of a liberal arts career center, I would take issue with the broad brush with which you paint all career centers. I provide career coaching training for NACE and interact with career center personnel across the country and I can tell you that as a group they are sincere, committed professionals who strive to provide the best services for their students. They are creative, interested in trying new technologies, and student-centered in their thinking. Many are not driven by employer demands– in fact, many career centers don’t have recruiting as a primary activity.
That said, there are challenges within the industry:
1. Colleges generally do not staff career centers well. (Many of us live for the day when a career center is as well staffed as the admissions office.) It is not unusual for career centers to have 3,000 (or more) students for every career counselor on staff.
2. There is often a mismatch between student expectations and what a career center can realistically do. Part of this has to do with legal constraints around recruiting. A career center should be one piece of the job-seeker’s pie, so to speak. It is one place where you can find assistance in the job search, but it should never be your only landing point. Of course you should use LinkedIn, Twitter and all sorts of internet/social media options as well. And good old-fashioned networking too. A career center cannot get you a job– even if they help, YOU will always be responsible for getting a job because you are the one in the interview room, not the career center. Get the help you can from career services and also use every other trick you can find.
3. Should there be more accountability for career services? Perhaps– I guess it depends on the institution. Most schools do keep track of the number of clients seen, number of employers recruiting, etc. The question is what to do with that information. In most schools the use of the center is optional and not all students are interested in delving into career activities while still in school– and they would resent you if you required them to use the services. Many students wait until the week before graduation to even visit the center. This is no one’s fault and not necessarily a problem, except when the student has missed out on valuable connections they might have made.
My advice– use your career center NOW while you’re still a student. If they don’t provide what you need, have an honest conversation with the director. It may be that something has been overlooked. There may be budget or staff limitations which the director can explain– and maybe there’s a way around those limitations. You won’t know until you ask. If you don’t feel your concerns were heard go to the Dean. My experience has been that when students have a complaint, the complaint is usually legitimate. Whether it can be solved is a matter of budget, staff, college culture, etc., but a good career center will respond to students’ needs to the best of its ability. Partnering with students (and student organizations) can be a great way for a career center to remain relevant.
As to the whole issue of what to do with a liberal arts education– you might want to go to the library and take a look at my book, “You Majored in What? Mapping Your Path from Chaos to Career” which deals specifically with how you translate that valuable liberal arts education into the workplace.
Hm… interesting points. I do think college career centers are completely lacking in social media understanding. They teach how to write an effective resume, how to personalize a cover letter and how to dress for an interview. Too bad none of that means shit anymore. Schools would be significantly more effective at getting students jobs if they stopped focusing on “traditional” job search methods.
This was a great post, but I wanted to take a little time to think about it before responding. I was a little disheartened when I read it because not only am I a fourth year liberal arts student, I also write a blog for our Career Services Centre. My education has at times frustrated me because I have wondered what I will ever ‘do’ with it. Now however I look at the last four years as an experience, like many have said in the comments, in growing up and learning to communicate with people. The same could be done with experience and vocational training, but I think the liberal arts has opened my eyes to an entire world that otherwise never existed in my suburban bubble. This was essential to me learning about what I am passionate about and what I what out of life. I am not going to define myself by my degree or make it the sole focus in my job search, because I have also gone to great lengths to gain real experiences outside the lecture hall. I do think this is essential for all university students because learning in a classroom can only get you so far. Things like exchanges, internships, co-ops, and even working while in school can all add to a more well rounded experience.
I will say this about the Career Services Centre at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario: I only started attending seminars and workshops this year so I would have something to write about for Water Cooler Gossip. Before that I had absolutely no interest. As I have written in my blog, I think the best thing about the centre and what they offer is they allow students the time to sit down, reflect, analyze, and consider all their options. Many students (myself included) do not make the time to do this. I have found Career Services beneficial because it opened the doors to a huge wealth of information (on the internet, in books, etc.) that I would have otherwise never have known. With all things in life, I take the advice with a grain of salt and assess what will work for me and what won’t. This is the advice I give on the blog, because not everyone will take away the same things from a meeting with a career counselor.
Ps. Your blog was introduced to me by someone in Career Services, so they must be doing something right!
I went to a small state school that probably cost about $30k for all four years. I got my degree in Political Science because I thought it was interesting and it allowed me the time to do other things, like be really involved with leadership organizations. While in college I almost failed out one year because I would stay up until 4am learning how to do HTML. I received my degree in Poly Sci and 4 years later was making six figures doing Information Architecture and Account Management, creating websites for pharma companies. My degree didn’t get me anything but a check-mark next to my name. What got me my job was my leadership and communication skills I learned via my involvement and my time on the “how to learn html” websites back in 2000. I couldn’t agree more.
One of the most frustrating things to me as a recruiter is college grads who act they deserve the job because they just finished grad school. Brand are not hiring their entry level leaders based on a degree but on relevant experience. I can’t agree more with your insight from this post. Getting ready for the real world is a thoughtful mix of education and experience. Getting a BA is the new high school diploma.
There are some relevant points in this blog, but on the whole there are some incredible generalizations that i believe are lacking in substance and proof.
I do work in a career center but am from a corporate recruitment background so am keenly aware of the realities of the corporate world. That said i agree entirely that career centers should be more accountable in terms of the statistics it maintains in terms of jobs upon graduation. But the writer must understand that the typical college student is not inclined to take the time to visit their career center. Much of the energy of most career centers is spent in the promotion of its services, the students are mainly focused on grades and ignore the fact that they need to be developing a network, developing those career skills needed to be competitive in the market.
To give social media such a prominent role in a career search is ludicrous. Indeed Social Media can be a powerful tool on occasion, but to suggest that the big companies and corporate recruiters are trawling blogs and Facebook pages for talented recent grads to the detriment of all other recruiting strategies is simply a ludicrous claim. yes they have a presence there but i would argue they place much more stock in the student who makes a more personal connection. I’m confident some telling connections have and can be made via social media and many social media seminars are offered through the career center in an attempt to encourage students to be “LinkedIn” and to be networking online, but they do need to be able to hold an in person conversation aswell.
It is also possible to be successful without a college degree, but getting a job is not the only reason to go to college. It is a place to learn, grow and develop so that once you are out in the global economy you can function in a global way of thinking. To suggest that this can be replaced with online chats and information gathering sessions online is mind-boggling. The connections made, intellectual disagreements had and memorable professors available in college make college a pivotal player in being ready for a successful career.
I would invite the writer to spend a day in any career center and understand the nature of the environment in order to deliver a more telling piece of writing.
Today is the first time I’ve encountered your blog and it very much concerned me. I see that the mission of your company is to help young people with their careers, yet you are telling them to avoid some of the people who can really be of service to them.
Are there some career centers out there that fit your description? Probably, however, there are many of us that do a really good job, and when students read posts like this one they may not even connect with the career center believing that all of them are bad because you say so.
Here at Harding University, a small private university, we encourage individualized resumes, teach the students to network and have a structured job search, teach interview skills, etc., and this is without extra cost to the students and alumni. My collegues at other universities do the same.
You did make some valid points in your post, but please note that most career centers that do a good job with/for their students, and even those that are underfunded and understaffed have some good things to offer.
I am currently a postgrad student (coincidentally, blogging about being one :) and I’m very happy that my parents could afford giving me a good education. Don’t repeat this, but personally I’m dreading having to stop being at uni and start having a real job one day (soon). I feel good in an academic environment. I love feeling that I’m swimming in a pool of knowledge. I love just chilling on the grass with my laptop and absorbing knowledge from e-journals, blogs and whatnot. And I love that I don’t have to do anything with this knowledge/information. Yes, I sure love a good talk with friends about that new viral campaign, but I’d hate it if I had to get up and create one myself, you know?
Maybe Belbin was right: some of us are more ‘implementers’. I know for sure I’m not (don’t pass that to any graduate employers please).
I have two good friends who constantly argue about the importance of a Masters of Business and Administration (MBA).They both recognize and agree that both experience and education are necessary but what does the job market value more?
Whether or not you feel like your degree is representative of your knowledge or experiences, your degree is one of the best ways to measure you against your competition because our society highly regards education though I completely agree with you that considering return on investment done – it does need a second thought.
Penelope–Thank you for your words, however, I must take offense to the idea that all college career centers are catering to employers and not to the students. I am the director of Internship and Career Services at Butler University and I can tell you that while part of our charge is to bring companies on campus to interview and talk to our students, that portion is extremely minimal. In our office, we know that the real way to help our students is to provide as many opportunities for students to network with employers as possible. To do this, we put on networking fairs, conduct workshops led by employers, and teach students, employers, and alumni how to use social media outlets to connect.
While of course we are not perfect and appreciate your words that made our office staff take a step back and think. However, I believe your generalizations are damaging to a group of professionals that truly cares about student success and works exceptionally hard to bring students in our doors for help with job and internship preparation. You are forgetting that a whole group of students get no career preparation at all, not through advising and certainly not through coursework. For them to hear that college career centers are not a place to essentially “waste time” leaves them completely alone in their search.
While I do believe there are career centers out there that fit in the mold you mention, many more are out there that put student success first and employers down the line.
I do agree with you that students and parents should place more emphasis on the ROI. Perhaps if they did, more attention and funding would help bring career centers to the forefront of the university–which I believe, they truly should be!